Lara St. John — The concerto album with Scott St. John and New York Bach Ensemble
Johann Sebastian Bach
BWV 1041, 1042, 1043
|In a world where artistes are judged by the image they portray, London-born Lara St. John is somewhat of an oddity. Her first album (Well-Tempered Productions WTP 5180, right) caused consternation among the more conservative, featuring her in a, shall we say, revealing outfit, posing nude while holding her violin across her chest. Long, heated philosophical threads about whether she should have allowed herself to be marketed in such a manner kept many busy on the UseNet discussion groups.
But how little that matters! Lara St. John may portray herself however she may; a blind man listening to her recordings could not fail to recognize the enormous talent, the passion and the drive in them. In the Bach concertos, her playing conveys abandonment and ardency, alternately extrovert (in the outer movements) and introspective (in the middle movements), all in excellent style, perfect intonation and superb voicing and understanding of the musical structure. Her style is primarily Classical, but with an unmistakable personality behind the notes. Her technique is to die for.
It’s difficult not to gush over this recording — listening to this CD gave me easily the most pleasure I’ve had listening to music for a long while — it fairly bursts with joy! It made me want to dance, and that’s probably the best compliment I can pay it. You won’t find the profundity of Menuhin’s middle movements, perhaps — not many have, but her HIP-like approach to the outer movements – fast, but without sacrificing articulation, conveys so much happiness in the sheer joy of playing. The interpretations found on this album are up there with the very best, and that includes Andrew Manze. In the double concerto, her brother Scott St. John (picture, below), professor at the University of Toronto, proves equally matched (how does such talent get passed on by?!) and the two deliver a stunning performance — always exciting and musical but never merely virtuosic. The Largo is particularly HIP-influenced — walking pace and full of articulation even though it’s a “slow” movement. The New York Bach Ensemble provides stylish, dancing accompaniment.
The G-minor Sonata, that beautiful work that opens the 6 solo works, receives a cultivated reading that still manages to transcend the didactic approach that mars the interpretations of so many “serious” artistes. An attractive sense of propulsion with minimal change in tempo marks the Fuga and voicing here is very confidently brought out. One thing I like appreciate about St. John is her ability to come out with different ways of phrasing something while making it sound completely natural — no easy feat. The Siciliana and Presto are equally impressive. Her variety in touch and strong control of her bow arm is also very attractive.
It is in a sense somewhat of a pity that the conservatives among the classical music community are likely to give this disc a miss, as Lara St. John’s playing is truly in a class of its own. I think all but the most hardened of skeptics will find plenty to enjoy in these readings. Give yourself a chance and you will enjoy it too. Recording quality is up close but not overwhelmingly so, with enough reverberation that Bach’s music can live and breathe. Highest recommendations.
Lara St. John plays a Guadgnini. More information can be found on her website : www.larastjohn.com
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365: 12.12.1998 Chia Han-Leon
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